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Mary Mcloughlin Resized

The Booming, Looming Retirement Crisis

Not everyone’s retirement comes with a lifetime of savings, plans to tour the French countryside, and pursuing a lifelong dream of cooking pastries. No, for many it’s quite the opposite – no savings, the stark realization that fulltime work will be a reality for a longtime, and anxiety that there may not be enough money coming in to keep the house.

No one has made that reality more vivid than author Elizabeth White and her book: “Fifty-Five, Unemployed, and Faking Normal.” Self-published toward the end of 2016, Elizabeth begins the book with an essay, more a confession really, of her life – now – unemployed, little saved, and “cobbling together an income.”

She, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Oberlin, a master’s in international studies from Johns Hopkins and a Harvard MBA, faces financial insecurity at 63.  And what she has done with this book is shine a light on the plight of nearly half of all baby boomers in the United States right now who, according to a 2016 survey conducted by Price Waterhouse Coopers, have set aside only $100,000 or less for their retirement.

It is a calamity that crosses the entire socio-economic, education and geographic spectrum and no one is talking about it, or rather, recognizing and discussing it as the national crisis that it is. No one, that is, except Elizabeth White, who travels across the country speaking to various groups from the halls of MIT populated by those like Elizabeth to rural, western Tennessee, with an audience of unemployed factory workers who also, like Elizabeth, never expected to be in this situation.

Elizabeth’s message is heartfelt but stern – part friend, part commanding officer – mourn your current circumstances, yes, but then take stock, make tough decisions and get on with your life. As Elizabeth puts it, “We need to reject magical thinking. The cavalry is not coming. We must learn how to achieve a richly-textured life on a limited income.

“The people I speak to feel isolated, alone, ashamed because we don’t talk about it.” She says that most of them “want to be seen,” but didn’t realize that there were others like them, facing the same grim reality of growing older, fearing what the future holds and being financially fragile.

She says that many have to “get off their throne,” and begin to feel deeply grounded in their life right now – as it is – including herself. Recently Elizabeth boarded a Greyhound bus for a ten-hour ride from Washington DC to West Virginia for a conference rather than booking a flight. (She also used the senior discount.)

“This is what I’m doing,” she explains. “We must be willing to be in the world in a different way,” she says, while also bemoaning that we, as a society, have never been here before. “There are no pathways or role models; there are no policies to help or guide us.”

Elizabeth will be coming to Grand Rapids on Friday, September 15, for a conference hosted by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation through its Encore initiative. This free conference, entitled We Are the Experts of Us, will convene those in the midst of, or interested in finding solutions for, this looming retirement crisis. Offering a variety of discussion sessions ranging from innovative housing models to resilience circles to the new sharing economy to intergenerational connections, it seeks to put a spotlight on the reality facing so many baby boomers – in their 50s and 60s with not enough money, flimsy job prospects, and determined to live a good life on a very limited income.

There are three ways to register: online at http://encorenetworkgr.org;  email: eambs@grfoundation.org; or call Emily at (616) 284-4921. Reservation deadline is Friday, September 1, 2017; best idea is to register right now!


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